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August 27, 2006

Today has been colder and we have once again encountered sea ice. The temperature outside at 16:40 was -2 °C. It has snowed lightly off and on today. We are currently located at 79° 30' N latitude and 142° 40' E longitude. The ship seems to be a bit ahead of schedule due to relatively ice-free waters and good weather. The CTD/Rosette has been deployed several times today and will be again when we arrive at our second mooring station in a few hours.

Oceanographer Jean-Claude GascardAfter breakfast, Art and I interviewed one of the scientists conducting research during this trip. Jean-Claude Gascard is an oceanographer at the Université Pierre et Marie Currie in Paris, France. He represents the European project DAMOCLES (Developing Arctic Modeling and Observing Capabilities for Long-term Environment Studies). The project relates to a call from the European Union to investigate the extent and causes of extreme climate change. The core of the DAMOCLES project is to look at the disappearance of Arctic sea ice as an example of such change.

Jean-Claude has been conducting research in the Arctic for 23 years. During that time he has observed an 8–10% decline per decade in the amount of the Arctic Ocean’s summer sea ice. More dramatically, scientists have documented a thinning of sea ice from an average of over 3 m thick 20 years ago to an average of less than 2 m today. This represents an average reduction in sea ice thickness of 40% over the entire Arctic Ocean. The causes of these drastic changes are what Jean-Claude hopes his research will determine.

Dramatic changes in the sea ice will affect the albedo in the Arctic. Albedo refers to the amount of incoming solar radiation reflected by a surface. Bright white snow and sea ice reflect most of the solar energy that reaches the Arctic’s surface back into space. This is one reason the Arctic remains so cold. With the acceleration of sea ice disappearance, more of the darker ocean surface is revealed. The ocean has a much lower reflectivity, and thus absorbs more of the sun's energy. This warms the surface further, causing faster melting of sea ice and so on. A change in albedo on such a grand scale (perhaps over an area as large as the continental United States) could have dramatic impacts on global climate, affecting precipitation patterns and seasonal weather patterns.

This morning it really hit me how fortunate we are to be aboard this research vessel interacting with such a distinguished group of international scientists.

—Mike Dunn


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Kapitan Dranitsyn